Schools of Social Casework

In the beginning, the aim of social work was to help but later on due to the influence of psychology and psychiatry, personality and behaviour treatment have also been added as the objective of social casework. The basic orientation of social caseworkers are of different kinds and with the result, diagnostic and functional schools appear in the practice of social casework.

Diagnostic School

The diagnostic school is basically founded on the Freudian theory of psychoanalysis. Mary Richmond gave shape to these thoughts in the form of a school. She wrote the first book on social casework i.e. Social Diagnosis in 1917. The other contributors to this school were Marion Kenworthy (New York School of Social Work), Betsey Libbey (Family Society of Philadelphia), Gordon Hamilton, Bertha Reynolds, Charlotte Towle, Florence Day and Annette Garrett.

The Diagnostic school is based on the following main foundations.

Principles of Diagnosis

Social casework help is based on the understanding of each client individually and his/her problems. It is essential because it gives a realistic basis for differentiation and a base for the improvement of the client’s social situation and personal satisfaction and adjustment.

The diagnosis is based on the following principles:

  1. The diagnostic process consists of a critical study of a client and his/her situation and the trouble concerning which help is sought or needed for the purpose of understanding the nature of the difficulty with increasing details and accuracy.
  2. Diagnosis is based on the knowledge of the worker about the interplay of social and psychological factors affecting the client.
  3. The knowledge of the interaction between inner and outer forces influencing the client makes the process of diagnosis helpful and therapeutic.
  4. Every problem of the individual should be understood in the light of the multiple factors theory.
  5. In the initial stage also, relieving of the pressure of stresses and strains on the client, helps the caseworker arrive at a proper diagnosis.
  6. The initial appraisal of personality and motivations and their significance in the development of the client’s problem provides the basis for planning the treatment of the client’s problems.
  7. For the solution of the problem of the client, it is of utmost importance to gain some knowledge of his/ her current capacity to work and to recognize the motivating forces in his/her behaviour.
  8. The understanding of the psycho-dynamics and the pathological symptoms of the personality of the client provides the basis for determining the kind of help that can be appropriately offered.

Principles of Treatment

The main objective of the treatment is of alleviating the client’s distress and decreasing the malfunctioning in the person’s situation system. The above objective is achieved by enhancing the adaptive skills of his/her ego and the functioning of the person’s situation system. It is based on certain principles :

  1. The forces of the discussion in the interview are centred on the problem and ways of resolving it. Attention is paid to know the obstacles both situational and behavioural that stand in the way of a solution.
  2. The nature and extent of both social and psychological factors differ in each situation.
  3. Treatment goals and techniques are planned after a careful study of the particular needs of the client.
  4. The success of the treatment programme is based on the utilization of the relationship purposefully.
  5. Social therapy and psychotherapy are the two broad classifications of social casework treatment.

Use of Techniques

The techniques include encouraging, emotional discharge, reassurance, support, suggestion, guidance and direction, provision of new experiences, clarification, interpretation, etc.

Use of Relationship

The relationship is the medium of treatment through which the client is enabled to find new ways of perceiving his/her problems and of handling himself.


Functional School

The functional approach to social casework practice was developed by the Faculty Members of the School of the University of Pennsylvania. This approach is based on the personality theory of Otto Rank. According to Functional School, social casework is a method of helping people through special services given by social agencies in such a way that the experience of using such services may be psychologically constructive. Thus the functional school of social casework has two inseparable aspects:

  1. Potentials for help to a person is inherent in the existence of service. Inspite of the differences in the clients and ways of using the agency’s services, the kind of service an agency gives and their purposes remain the same.
  2. The use of agency service gives a psychological experience that differs from the form of another kind of service regardless of the similarity of problems in the people using the two services.


The diagnosis is most effective which is related to the need for some specific service and which is developed in the course of giving the service. This school does not recognize the significance of understanding the total situation of the client. Functional diagnosis recognizes that people cannot be categorized and a plan with a specific kind of service may deny potential growth and change. In establishing a diagnostic conclusion each individual makes his/her own diagnosis of himself. Diagnosis is a way of engaging in a human relationship process, which frees the help seeker to determine his/ her own goal for himself/herself. The client is the centre for change capable of continuous growth and development.


Functional school prefers to use the term helping process, rather than treatment. Social caseworker is not responsible for treating someone who is the passive recipient of treatment because the school believes that the centre for change resides in the client itself. Social casework through the agency service seeks to release power for improved social functioning.

The process of establishing and using a diagnosis serves as the part of casework helping. Total social casework process includes three stages or three-time phases: beginning, middle and ending In the beginning phase, the caseworker establishes relationship by removing all the hindrances that come in the way of understanding the client or by the client to the caseworker. He/she also tries to understand the client’s needs, desires, motives, interests and hopes for future. He/she also divides the problem of the client and put them in order of priority. The client starts to take services from the agency. In the middle stage the responsibility of the client increases and the relation becomes closer. The last stage is of separation of client from the caseworker. It is a difficult process. Sometimes client does not like to terminate the service due to emotional touch with the worker. The social caseworker with all his/her abilities and capacities tries on one hand not to harm his/her feelings and on the other hand the client may go happily. Caseworker gives him/her a chance to become conscious of his/her readiness to leave, so that he/she can leave the agency without and fear.


Difference between Diagnostic and Functional School

  • Diagnostic School follows the theory of personality developed by Sigmund Freud whereas functional school is based on the theory of ‘will’ developed by Otto Rank.
  • Diagnostic School believes that personality is a composite of many interacting forces, reacting not only in each other but also influences the social environment favourably or unfavourably. The strength and the nature of balance of these forces are the result of individual’s experiences primarily of his/her relationship to parents and the other person. The functional school also believes that the process of development of personality takes place within the interaction of inner needs and environmental experiences, but such an interaction takes place and is directed by the human beings inborn will to individual development and autonomy.
  • According to diagnostic school, the ego is the chief of psychic energy, the strength of which is determined largely by the favourable or unfavourable course of one’s psycho-social environment. But according to functional school the ego (self) is the result of the creative use of inner and outer experience through the ‘will’ and is not the product of interaction of inner and outer forces.
  • In the diagnostic view, the goal of treatment is to increase the individual’s ego capacity whereas functional school tends to direct his/her effort toward helping the client to release his/her inner capacity of feeling, organising and acting.
  • Total information about the client’s ego functions, total personality, motivating forces, reality pressures and his/her current feelings is essential according to diagnostic view for enabling the client to take part in the therapeutic relationship. Functional school gives emphasis on the client’s feelings in the immediate situation which includes both his/her problem and the casework relationship through which he/she may solve the problem, other information are secondary.
  • Diagnostic School believes in doing planned and goal directed help to the client –both psychological and social. Functional school gives full freedom to the client to give direction to his/her own process of change. Agency services are made available.
  • The Diagnostic School accepts responsibility for apprising client’s capacities and weakness and for organising and arranging measures for self-development. The functional school believes in the client’s right for choices and goals because of the constructive value of the use of self.

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